Laurence Olivier did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning BAFTA, for portraying Field Marshall Sir John French in Oh! What A Lovely War.
Laurence Olivier is one of these stars although he is given two scenes at his disposal to portray the head of the British forces during the early part of the war. Olivier delivers the best star cameo here, although I suppose it does not quite count since he has two scenes. Anyway though Olivier takes the right approach, given the style of the film which in no way tries to find the humanity in any character, gives an absurdest caricature. Where some of the other cameos are pretty easy to forget as they just do their thing, make no real impact then leave, Olivier actually makes the right choice being a tad overt in his performance. He takes the approach of making John French as extremely British as he possibly can be. With his excessively British accent as well as just the way he almost seems to be a solid plank of a man in the way he so stiffly moves. In fact he even makes sitting seem like a slightly odd thing to do because he must do it in a such a proper way. Olivier even takes the choice to seem as though he is almost always perhaps constipated because of just how rigid of a man he must be at all times.
What Olivier does here might have been a bit much in different circumstances but I've usually found that he's an actor who knows when it's the right time to go big. Well this film is definitely the right time and I feel Olivier's performance best knows how to capture the spirit of the style it seems Attenborough was going for. That being all the historical figures making decisions were to be over the top and out of control, and I would assume then the family torn apart by the war would be shown in a realistic light, well at least that's probably how the film should have been. Well Olivier is at least one actor who seemed to understand this and he gives the best performance in the film because of it. It's also important that Olivier is quite entertaining in his portrayal of the oh so proper British General. He's particularly funny in the moment where he seems as though he's almost going to throw up at the prospect of speaking to the French Generals, or also how it seems to unnerve him to his very core when his eventually successor refers to him casually as Johnny. It's a fun performance, and frankly the film should have had more of him. He's a hoot for his two scenes though even though I do have to admit the best thing to come out of Olivier's association with the film is the speech he gave when accepting his Bafta win.